Friday, October 17, 2008

Reflections from Malawi

It is Friday morning, October 17 here in Lilongwe, Malawi. I'm half way through my 7th trip to Malawi in the last three years. This morning I am once again at the Korea Garden Lodge where the internet connection is slow but fairly reliable, waiting for Theresa Malila to pick Debbie and I and another couple up for a tour of 2-3 villages that are ready for a partner to walk alongside them as they work to transform their communities.

Every time I travel to Malawi I am confronted by disparities, oxymorons, poverty, joy, God, evil, hope, despair, faith, hopelessness -- and I could go on. I am here with a team of 19 people -- some of whom have never been outside the USA, others who have been here before and others who have traveled with me to other nations.

As I reflect on the last week, here are some of the things that come to mind.
  • In a nation where per capita income is US$180 a year, gasoline costs US$6.88 an American gallon and milk is US$8 a gallon, while you can buy a bottle of Coke for twenty-five cents and 5 litres of water for about US$3. That means you can't afford to buy gas or milk -- but you could afford Coke. Does that make any sense?
  • Food costs have gone through the roof -- partly due to the rise in fuel costs, but largely due to the policies of the government of Malawi that is getting praise in some circles for the job they have done in improving food security (the only people who believe there has been improvements are people who have money). A bag of maize (the staple food here) has gone up from about US$4 to US$40 in the last year. Tell me how that is helping the 70%+ people who live on less than $1 a day.
  • God is at work among the poor in Malawi. On Tuesday I was with a group of pastors, traditional leaders, an HIV Support Group and some Home-Based Care volunteers in the Mgona area of Lilongwe. Mgona is home to about 50,000 people. 50% of the population of Mgona are orphans and vulnerable children under the age of 15. Mgona is at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. The people who live there are considered trash. In the last 3 years I have been in Mgona many times and there is change beginning to happen. God is at work! Faith is growing! Hope is on the increase! I listened as pastors and traditional leaders spoke of how God has changed their lives and how they hope to see their community transformed. I heard stories of hope from people who were HIV+ and who only months before had been given up to die. I was humbled and blessed. I saw God at work! It was my turn to speak and all I could think of was what a privilege it was for me to be among these people -- people who others think are trash. I felt the urging of the Holy Spirit to say that one day people from across Malawi and even the world will come to Mgona to learn from them. God wanted to make them leaders and they should continue to seek Him, trust in Him and follow Him and He would be faithful. It sounded so foolish standing before this group of people who have no socio-economic power, no political power and no visible way to make anything happen in their lives -- yet I believe it to be true.
  • Yesterday I was in the community of Chilombo listening to a youth choir composed of about 40+ teenagers. They were singing about how God had changed their lives. Each of these teenagers had been involved in a Reach4Life (R4L) study group. They had been reading the R4L New Testament and had turned from a life of promiscuity and alcohol and drug abuse to a life of sexual purity and hope. I heard a girl of 15 or so tell us about the fact that she used to get her worth by having sex with men -- but now, because of the Gospel, she understood that she had value. She now respected herself and her life has turned around. Another young man told about how God had saved him from a life of alcohol abuse. Here, in a rural area of a small tiny country, in a community with no running water and no electricity God was moving. Such joy and hope! Malawi has a future if we can continue to influence the youth.
  • From there we went to a well that had been drilled as a result of money raised at a funeral of a friend. The well was providing clean water for 5,000 people ( I drank the water and it was GOOD). Sunday we dedicate it the well and place a plaque near it in rememberance of Dave Barr -- a good man. Fresh, clean water -- I take it for granted. Once again I grew in appreciation for what I have been given in life and my desire to help others was strengthened.
God seems so close here in Malawi -- often closer than in the USA. I'm so glad that I have the opportunity to come here and meet God. It makes life worth living. I have to figure out how to meet God at home -- I know it can happen -- it has in the past -- I know it will in the future -- but whether I am in Malawi, or in Turkey or Indonesia -- somehow he seems closer to those who are poor and oppressed than He is where we have power and wealth.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

To the Centre or to the Frontiers?

Many years ago when I attended the School of World Mission (now the School of Inter-Cultural Studies) at Fuller Theological Seminary Dr. Paul Pierson told us that God is always working at the fringes - rarely if ever is he working in the center of power. In fact, as you study the historical development of the world Christian movement you discover that God brings renewal to the church and renewal to a society by working on the fringes of the church and the society. Change rarely, if ever, comes from centers of political, religious or economic power.

Makes you wonder about all the "hoopla" of the current presidential election where both parties claim they will bring change and renew Washington DC. Somehow, I think not.

But, I digress.

This evening I started reading a book that was given to me by a Korean missions leader. The book was written by Paul Choi and is called "Global Spiritual Mapping". Not sure yet if I would recommend it, but he made some powerful statements in one of the early chapters that reminded me of what Dr. Pierson taught us back years ago.

Here are a few quotes:

People want to live in the center of the world's power.

Once people seize power, they struggle to hold onto that power in fear of losing everything that thye obtained with it. They take shortcuts and shamelessly flatter those with greater power, but in the end, their lives come to a ruin.

People are constantly moving toward the center because they see the power there. They say they can change the world by becoming succesful in the center. Yet that is not God's way. You cannot do anything at the center . . .

God does not work at the center of civilization. God works in the margins, the frontiers.

You cannot change the world at the center. If you want to govern the world, go to the center; but if you want to transform it, go to the frontiers.

When we go out to the frontiers, the center is affected.

History beings anew in the frontiers. When one frontier becomes the center of civilization, the cneter of history moves to a different frontier.

History makers do not go to the center. They go to the frontiers to discover new plans for the future. New history begins there.

Food for thought -- don't you think -- especially in the light of the fact that it seems that so much of the American church longs for the halls of power, longs to be part of the center of civilization. Yet Jesus started his ministry not in Jerusalem -- not in the center. He started His ministry in Galilee of the Gentiles -- far from the political, religious and economic center of Palestine.

Perhaps we need to look for God in the fringes where He often resides -- and stay away from the center, where He often appears not to be.